A mother serving a three year sentence for burglary has won an appeal against a ruling that her youngest child should be taken into care.
In Re L (A Child), the woman’s two older children had already been removed from her care as due to her use of illegal drugs and a lifestyle characterised by “chaotic and risky behaviour”. The oldest child was now living with the woman’s mother and the second had been adopted.
When the woman became pregnant a third time, she avoided antenatal appointments, fearing that the new child would be taken into care, but was later arrested for burglary.
She applied to look after the child at a prison mother and baby unit. The local authority opposed this, saying the mother had not shown evidence of her ability to make meaningful changes to her lifestyle, and a judge ruled in their favour. He said it would not be in the child’s best interests to place the baby in his mother’s care without such evidence.
The newborn baby was therefore placed in foster care under an interim (temporary) care order.
The woman appealed, claiming that the judge had been wrong to focus on the child’s long term interests in his ruling. The Court of Appeal agreed. The original judge had only been asked to rule on an interim care order and that was exclusively focused on keeping a child safe in the immediate future. His ruling had given the local authority’s position an advantage and could affect the mother’s chances of getting to know the child or caring for him in the future.
The Court of Appeal ordered that the child be moved to the mother and baby unit at the prison under an interim (temporary) supervision order, meaning that the child’s contact with his mother would be supervised for a period of time.